The world’s biggest exiled Iranian dissident movement will hold its annual rally this weekend to call for regime change in Iran and to push the U.S. and Western nations to adopt a firmer policy rather than seek negotiations and diplomacy with Tehran.
The rally comes as President Biden‘s efforts to restore the Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran appear stalemated. It will feature an in-person gathering at the movement’s Albanian headquarters, as well as a show of support from dissidents connecting virtually from smaller events occurring in dozens of countries.
Organizers say they hope the event, orchestrated by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its associate group, the exiled People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK), will draw attention to the plight of opposition protesters inside Iran and highlight what it calls the Iranian regime’s hostile domestic and foreign policies.
“On July 23 and 24, the ‘Free Iran World Summit 2022’ entitled, ‘Iran on the Brink of Change – Resistance the Key to Victory,’ will voice support for the continuous uprisings and demonstrations of the Iranian people and the call to adopt a decisive international policy against Tehran’s hostage-taking and blackmailing,” an NCRI/MEK spokesperson said in an email to The Washington Times.
Iran’s government has expressed outrage over the MEK, referring to it as a “terrorist” organization, and recently blacklisted dozens of current and former U.S. officials for backing the group. The Iranian Foreign Ministry on Saturday published a list of 61 current and former American officials who it said have provided “deliberate support” for the MEK.
Several of the individuals sanctioned, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, were previously blacklisted by the government in Tehran for other reasons. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, and Sen. Cory A. Booker, New Jersey Democrat, were among current officials sanctioned by Tehran on Saturday.
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Despite Tehran’s efforts, organizers of this weekend’s rally say dozens of political figures from the U.S., Europe, Canada, the Middle East and beyond are slated to participate, with several prominent former American officials scheduled to offer live or pre-recorded remarks on Saturday and Sunday.
The movement’s past gatherings have made international headlines with fiery speeches calling for regime change in Tehran. For many years the annual rally was held in a large airplane hangar on the outskirts of Paris, but it has not been held there since 2018, when the Iranian government sought to bomb the event.
In February 2021, a Belgian court sentenced a senior Iranian diplomat to 20 years in prison on charges of plotting a terrorist attack against the 2018 summit. Assadolah Assadi, who was accused of operating on orders from Iranian intelligence, was found guilty of planning a bomb attack that ultimately was thwarted in the days leading up to the summit.
The annual dissident rally was shifted last year to Albania, which has become the headquarters in recent years of the MEK, which claims to maintain contact with a wide network of operatives inside Iran working against the Iranian regime.
The group has been credited over the years with making revelations about the Iranian nuclear program and has long sought influence in Washington, where it had sympathizers in the former Trump administration.
Mr. Pompeo appeared in Albania in May and former Vice President Mike Pence was there last month. Both are potential Republican presidential candidates for 2024, and both gave speeches calling for a more aggressive U.S. policy toward Iran.
“Traveled to Albania today to speak with the Iranian community there,” Mr. Pompeo said on Twitter at the end of his May visit. “They are right to resist the mullahs and work to deliver what the Iranian people are demanding and protesting for: freeing Iran’s citizens from the regime’s tyrannical yoke.”
Mr. Pence sharply criticized what he called President Biden‘s “weakness” on foreign policy in general, while specifically slamming the current administration’s “disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan” and arguing that White House “appeasement” of Iran is backfiring.
John R. Bolton, for a time President Trump’s national security adviser, and former Trump personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani are among those who have appeared in the past as speakers at annual MEK rallies, calling openly for regime change in Tehran. Neither is slated to appear at this year’s event.
Mr. Trump, meanwhile, never publicly endorsed the regime change policy himself, although he took a tough line against Tehran by repudiating the 2018 Iran nuclear deal, reimposing harsh sanctions on Iran‘s economy and authorizing the 2020 U.S. drone strike that killed top Iranian military commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
The Biden administration has partially reversed course, scrambling for the past 18 months to try and restore the nuclear deal, which had lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for a promise of limits to its nuclear program. Supporters of the 2015 deal say Iran has only moved closer to obtaining nuclear weapons since the U.S. left the accord.
But Mr. Biden’s efforts to re-balance relations have faced bipartisan pushback in Congress, including from such prominent Democrats as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez.
An article published on the NCRI website promoting this weekend’s rally called for the formation of an “international front that rejects Iran’s ruling theocracy and the appeasement policy by Western powers towards it.”